How to Clean Furnace Heat Exchangers

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A heat exchanger in a furnace is the part of the furnace that transfers the heat from one medium to another. In some furnaces, heated water on one side of the heat exchanger is transferred into steam heat by the heat exchanger, and then delivered to the room or building to keep the air warm. Heat exchangers must be cleaned to keep the furnace from overheating and to prevent dust particles that accumulate on the heat exchange from igniting and causing a house fire.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Work gloves
  • Bucket
  • Dish detergent
  • Scrub brush
  • Cleaning cloths
  • Turn off power to your furnace by flipping the breaker that links to the furnace. Because you are both taking the furnace apart and applying water to the inner parts of the furnace, it is crucial that you make certain that the furnace you are working with is not connected to any power source.

  • Remove the outer panel of the furnace case. Wear work gloves so you do not cut your hands on the panels, as they are usually made of sharp edged pieces of metal or steel. Remove all paneled sides of the furnace that are easily removed with the screwdriver.

  • Identify the heat exchange. The heat exchange of a furnace is a sheet of metal with tubes and cylindrical notches; it resembles a second, bumpy piece of paneling that is found on the inside of the furnace.

  • Wipe the heat exchange down with a damp cleaning cloth, removing large particles of dust from the exchange. Add dish detergent to the bucket of water and mix by hand to create bubbly foam in the bucket.

  • Dip the scrub brush in the bucket of soapy water and pass the sudsy scrub brush over the surface of the heat exchange, removing dust that lies in the crevices of the heat exchange surface. Wipe away the suds and wipe with a rinsed cloth. Continue scrubbing until all dust is removed.

  • Leave the panels off the furnace and leave the furnace breaker in the off position for a couple of hours to allow all of the water in the furnace to dry. This will prevent electrical fires are started by water being in the electrical system of the furnace.

  • Put the furnace panels back on in the order in which you removed each piece. Turn the furnace breaker back on and start the furnace back up.

Tips & Warnings

  • The inner parts of a furnace should be cleaned once a year to extend the life of the furnace parts. Clean the inner parts of your furnace every summer.
  • If the heat exchange of the furnace is blue or otherwise discolored from the silver-chrome hue that it should be, then the heat exchange has been damaged by overheating and may need to be replaced.

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